Despite a mediocre critical reception, Earth Defense Force (EDF) 2017 managed to attract something of a cult following for its “so bad it’s good” cheesiness when it launched on the Xbox 360 in 2007. Games that are unintentionally or ironically “fun” aren’t typically my thing, yet the game had been recommended to me more than once over the years. Fans would tell me that its dirt-simple gameplay and relative ugliness were all part of its charm — that for all the pretense of being a “next-gen” title, it was arcade action in its purest form.
Still, I managed to keep my distance for almost six years. Six blessed years.
Now, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to review the Vita remake, Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable. While the game is just as cheesy and simplistic as advertised, it’s not what I would call fun. Not by any stretch. Unpolished and overpriced, yes, but not fun.
Here’s the grand concept behind EDF 2017: You shoot stuff. That’s it. There’s no real plot, no strategy or puzzles. Granted, there are plenty of games that possess this basic mechanic and little else — first-person shooter classic Serious Sam comes to mind — but the good ones all possess something special to bolster the shooting. For example, Serious Sam had intriguing level design and memorable enemies. EDF, on the other hand, is as plain as it gets. Earth is being invaded by giant robots and insects, and you shoot said robots and insects. You do this over and over across 60 mind-numbing levels (seven more than in the original) with no other objective than the destruction of a set number of enemies.
EDF’s extreme simplicity would be somewhat forgivable were it not accompanied by some of the worst graphics and controls to plague a modern video game. I can only imagine that the game’s graphics were mildly tolerable in 2007; in 2013, they’re an obscene embarrassment. Ugly environments repeat ad infinitum and are far too large for as little action as they contain. Textures are awful and tear often. Pop-in and slowdown are abundant. Enemies move with the grace of a seizure-stricken giraffe. What’s worse, downed foes stay in the picture far too long, obscuring live enemies and bouncing around the landscape like deflated parade balloons.
The awkward sense of movement extends to the controls. Your character plods along slowly, speeding up only to dash sideways (nonsensically, it’s faster to strafe-dive towards your objectives than to run straight for them), though movement is often frustratingly interrupted by ugly polygons jutting out of the ground. Aiming and camera controls are more agreeable, though they sorely lack a dedicated lock-on button. Also, the game sometimes takes camera controls out of the player’s hands for several seconds to point out a large object looming overhead. Meanwhile, the hapless player is left to take damage from off-screen enemies in what can only be described as a puzzling and boneheaded design oversight.
Armored vehicles are strewn about some of the levels, but they function as little more than unwieldy nuisances. The mech suit, for example, seems nifty until you realize that it takes 10 seconds to turn a quarter-circle. The tank and helicopter are practically useless, being that they both suffer from floaty controls, can withstand very little damage, and are prone to crashing into polygonal detritus. The helicopter in particular is a laughable addition due to the painful finger gymnastics needed to perform anything resembling coordinated movement and shooting.
The game’s one saving grace is its arsenal, which spans over 150 unique weapons. New weapons are picked up randomly during levels, with higher-level guns popping up in more difficult scenarios. Collecting weapons adds a light Monster Hunter quality to the gameplay, but don’t expect anything quite so polished. Weapons cannot be crafted or upgraded, and due to some exceedingly long reload times, very few are actually useful in the more difficult missions.
EDF appears geared towards a multiplayer experience, as the vacuous levels and teeming hordes of enemies would suggest gameplay that works best when occupied by multiple players, each one taking on a separate wave of foes in some distant corner of the map. Sadly, the game’s online lobbies remain sparsely populated only a few weeks after release. I was unable to find a single match for competitive multiplayer, but I did manage to get into a handful of cooperative games. They ran well enough, and multiplayer adds a much-needed survival mode-style appeal to the banal proceedings, but I wouldn’t count on EDF’s online community to rescue an otherwise dull package or even to stick around in the coming months.
After all, the Vita iteration isn’t likely to attract many more fans or newcomers to its community due to appalling pricing. Despite the game’s age and lack of meaningful extras, it’s priced directly against superior fare like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Persona 4 Golden. EDF would be overpriced at $5, but at $40, it’s nothing short of a middle finger to Vita owners. I would recommend waiting for a steep discount to take a chance on it, but the Xbox 360 version can already be found in bargain bins… and no sale price would ever be worth the bother, really.
There are several more competent games with similar concepts that have come out in the last six years, Lost Planet and Red Faction: Armageddon chief among them. After my experience with the abominable EDF, I would consider those games palate cleansers. They don’t require nearly as much of a sense of irony to find fun.